Apple Updated the Unreliable MacBook Pro

The Terrible Keyboard Got a Slight Update

Apple invited some journalists to see new MacBook Pro laptops, they have newer and faster chipsets and processors with more RAM as an option, but didn’t talk about reliability. Dieter Bohn:

…it’s just hard to trust a keyboard after so many reports that it can be rendered inoperable by a grain of sand and that is incredibly difficult and expensive to repair or replace. This new third-generation keyboard wasn’t designed to solve those issues, Apple says. In fact, company representatives strenuously insisted that the keyboard issues have only affected a tiny, tiny fraction of its user base. (There’s now a four-year repair program for the keyboard in case it fails.)

Casey Johnston wasn’t invited to the event.

Apple also stopped selling the only reliable laptop you could buy from them, the 2015 MacBook Pro that had the old keyboard.

Casey Johnston: Apple admits its computers are broken

The “winner?” of the ongoing Apple portable keyboard saga, Casey Johnston, writes about the new repair program for Macbook keyboards:

While the repair and replacement program covers costs and notes that Apple will repair both single keys as well as whole keyboards when necessary, it doesn’t note whether the replacements will be a different, improved design that will prevent the problem from happening again (and again, and again). Having become a one-woman clearinghouse for people complaining about these keyboards since I broke this story, I feel justified in saying that keyboard failures – dead keys, sticking keys, double-spacing spacebars – appear to happen early and often, and repairs do not permanently fix the issue. I also feel justified in saying that the design on offer as recently as February still presented the exact same issues as the design I purchased in the fall of 2016.

Of course, that means nobody should be buying Apple’s modern* laptops until there’s some kind of hardware revision to stop the problems with minuscule grains of nothing destroying these delicate keyboard keys. It’ll be better when I have a reason to stop pining for an iPad with XCode, gcc, an official Terminal.app, and a clamshell keyboard case from Apple.

*Apple will still sell you the 2015 MacBook Pro in various configurations online if you want more standard ports and a keyboard that won’t quit on you if a butterfly flaps its wings within the surrounding 200 miles.

Apple’s “Fuck You” to Mac Game Developers & Players

This wasn’t in the keynote, but Apple had some bad news buried in the “What’s New in macOS” section of their developer site for anyone who makes games or other software with the OpenGL graphics API :

Deprecations and Removed APIs
Periodically, Apple adds deprecation macros to APIs to indicate that those APIs should no longer be used in active development. When a deprecation occurs, it’s not an immediate end of life for the specified API. Instead, it is the beginning of a grace period for transitioning from that API and to newer and more modern replacements. Deprecated APIs typically remain present and usable in the system for a reasonable time past the release in which they were deprecated. However, active development on them ceases, and the APIs receive only minor changes to accommodate security patches or to fix other critical bugs. Deprecated APIs may be removed entirely from a future version of the operating system.

As a developer, avoid using deprecated APIs in your code as soon as possible. At a minimum, new code you write should never use deprecated APIs. And if your existing code uses deprecated APIs, update that code as soon as possible.

Deprecation of OpenGL and OpenCL
Apps built using OpenGL and OpenCL will continue to run in macOS 10.14, but these legacy technologies are deprecated in macOS 10.14. Games and graphics-intensive apps that use OpenGL should now adopt Metal. Similarly, apps that use OpenCL for computational tasks should now adopt Metal and Metal Performance Shaders.

Metal is designed from the ground up to provide the best access to the modern GPUs on iOS, macOS, and tvOS devices. Metal avoids the overhead inherent in legacy technologies and exposes the latest graphics processing functionality. Unified support for graphics and compute in Metal lets your apps efficiently utilize the latest rendering techniques. For information about developing apps and games using Metal, see the developer documentation for Metal, Metal Performance Shaders, and MetalKit. For information about migrating OpenGL code to Metal, see Mixing Metal and OpenGL Rendering in a View.

Apple is already requiring that apps get updated to be 64-bit, or they’ll stop working in a future update.

As much as I loathe John Carmack today, and it certainly didn’t help that he decided to write this on Facebook, he recently wrote about how he persuaded Steve Jobs to support OpenGL on the Mac:

I was brought in to talk about the needs of games in general, but I made it my mission to get Apple to adopt OpenGL as their 3D graphics API. I had a lot of arguments with Steve.

Part of his method, at least with me, was to deride contemporary options and dare me to tell him differently. They might be pragmatic, but couldn’t actually be good. “I have Pixar. We will make something [an API] that is actually good.”

It was often frustrating, because he could talk, with complete confidence, about things he was just plain wrong about, like the price of memory for video cards and the amount of system bandwidth exploitable by the AltiVec extensions.

But when I knew what I was talking about, I would stand my ground against anyone.

When Steve did make up his mind, he was decisive about it. Dictates were made, companies were acquired, keynotes were scheduled, and the reality distortion field kicked in, making everything else that was previously considered into obviously terrible ideas.

I consider this one of the biggest indirect impacts on the industry that I have had. OpenGL never seriously threatened D3D on PC, but it was critical at Apple, and that meant that it remained enough of a going concern to be the clear choice when mobile devices started getting GPUs. While long in the tooth now, it was so much better than what we would have gotten if half a dozen SoC vendors rolled their own API back at the dawn of the mobile age.

While OpenGL isn’t going away immediately in macOS Mojave, when it is finally gone there will be many fewer games on macOS, it has been the only portable graphics API available for developers to bring their games to Linux and macOS, as well as other platforms, for decades.

Without OpenGL on macOS the Mac and Linux will both suffer, as will new platforms. They’ll have a harder time getting games and other software when bigger platforms are locked to vendor-specific APIs like Metal instead of cross-platform ones like Vulkan and OpenGL.

If I had to guess, I would hope that Valve will ship an intermediary layer to translate OpenGL calls for games on Steam, and hopefully they will make this software available for everyone else. There are already some other projects to translate OpenGL to platform-specific calls but it’s not going to be easy for games to support them. It’d be better if these projects had something to handle the translation on-the-fly. It’s also entirely possible that Valve will just give up on older games supporting modern versions of macOS after Apple fully deprecates OpenGL.

I don’t envy anyone trying to support old software and write good OpenGL drivers like Apple has (even when they don’t update their OpenGL support for years), but the deprecation of OpenGL is a real “Fuck You” to game developers and players unlike any other. Games getting updated from 32-bit to 64-bit, as well as going through the process of having any kind of graphics portability layer added on top, seems unlikely. Thousands of games are going to be lost to time when OpenGL dies off. Competition with popular hardware and software platforms will be even more difficult. I understand the desire to get rid of technical debt, but this is bad.

Apple’s WWDC 2018 Event Notes

Here’s everything that Apple announced today.

Keynote

Here’s everything that Apple announced at their World Wide Developer’s Conference Keynote for 2018. The event opened with this four-minute nature documentary style advertisement on migrating developers:

iOS 12
Craig Federighi boasted about iOS 11 being available on iOS devices from 2013, and that the majority of their users are on 11 versus the 6% they claim are on the latest Android update. According to Google, the percentage of Android users running their latest operating system (Android 8.1) is 0.8%, ouch. I would guess that Apple based their estimate on the percentage of devices that are capable of running 8.0 or 8.1, which is 4.9% and 0.8% respectively. The majority of Android users (25.5%) appear to still be in the stone age on Android 6.0.

According to Federighi the primary focus of iOS 12 will be performance, specifically he said that older devices would perform better. Using an iPhone 6 Plus as an example, Federighi claimed that apps would launch 40% faster, the keyboard would display 50% faster, the camera would open 70% faster.

USDZ
Because this keynote is ostensibly for developers, Federighi announced a new format for 3D scenes to be bundled together, USDZ. Pixar created the USD format in 2012, and this is their update to it for 2018 (thanks to coolpowers).

Adobe’s CTO Abhay Parasnis announced that their products would support the new format and that Apple’s developer State of the Union would have some kind of demo of this integration.

Measure
Federighi announced a new app for augmented reality, Measure, which will presumably replace everyone’s first ARKit app by giving you measurements for real-world objects. The app can detect some shapes and automatically provide measurements for those, but you’ll need to tap at the ends or corners of most real-world objects to get the app to measure them.

Apple’s USDZ Demos
Federighi showed off a USDZ 3D scene of a fish embedded in their Apple News app, and then customized a guitar on Fender’s web store only to display it on the stage through an iPad’s AR viewfinder.

LegoARKit 2
Federighi said that iOS 12 would include a new version of their ARKit API for developers to create augmented reality experiences. The flagship feature for ARKit 2, shared experiences, allows multiple devices to view and interact with the same scene. A slide depicted a pre-recorded video of people playing a multiplayer AR game where both participants and an observer could see and interact.

Martin Sanders, the Director of Innovation at Lego, demonstrated the new object detection features of ARKit along with shared experiences by scanning a physical Lego set and then awkwardly holding two iPads around it with someone else from the Lego company. The iPads showed a city being built around the town square Lego set with some limited interactivity to place vehicles and minifigures. It looked like it could be fun, but this kind of AR scanning will probably be limited to sets that Lego produces, not the modifications people make to them. Sanders said that the Lego AR experience app would ship later this year.

Search in photos

Photos Search & For You
Federighi said that Photos would improve in iOS 12. He highlighted the search functionality that would offer suggestions and other improvements to help you find photos you’re looking for. The app will also get a new tab, For You, that offers suggestions of photos you might like to see or ways you could change them to make them more appealing. It seemed like the editing suggestions were limited to ones that involve Apple’s features like looping a live photo or making some specific change to a portrait photo.

The For You tab will also suggest sharing photos with people who appear in them. He said that they would be shared at full resolution, which is an improvement because photos shared today aren’t at the original resolution. Federighi also said that the recipient of shared photos would be prompted to share photos from the same event so that everyone ends up with the entire set.

Siri Shortcuts
Federighi mentioned a new feature called shortcuts that would let Siri easily start functions of other apps. The first example was “I lost my keys” which would have Siri open part of the Tile app’s functionality within Siri and look for them. Apps in iOS 12 would make suggestions of shortcuts to add to Siri. The iOS 12 lock screen and search will make suggestions of things to do like re-ordering coffee or turning on Do Not Disturb when you’re at a movie theater.

Federighi said that you’d be able to make your own shortcuts in a new “Shortcuts Editor” app.

Shortcuts editor

Apple’s Kim Beverett demonstrated the shortcuts functionality with a few examples. One of which was adjusting a shortcut she made in the Shortcut Editor. Beverett’s Heading Home shortcut would compress a bunch of steps into one action. It lets her roommate know how long it’ll take her to get home, set her thermostat to 70 degrees and turns on a fan, and opens maps with the course home preconfigured. Beverett quickly used the editor to play a radio program she wanted to listen to every time she goes home whenever she uses the shortcut. This Shortcut Editor is clearly the Workflow app that Apple acquired last year.

Other App Updates
Apple’s Susan Prescott demonstrated a few other iOS 12 app updates. Apple News is going from a 5 tab interface to 3 tabs with a new tab called Browse to handle the functionality from the current Search and Following tabs.

The Stocks app is completely rebuilt, and has business news built-in and new charts. The app will also be on the iPad.

Voice Memos is “even easier to use” and is also on the iPad, it’ll also use iCloud for file synchronization.

iBooks is getting refurbished with a new name and interface, it’s just Apple Books on iOS 12.

CarPlay is going to support 3rd party navigation apps.

Dnd

Do Not Disturb
Federighi returned to show us how iOS’ Do Not Disturb will be updated with a new feature called Do Not Disturb During Bedtime. It will hide notifications so you won’t be “barraged” with them if you wake up in the middle of the night and just want to see what time it is. You can also granularly enable Do Not Disturb until you leave a location or for a certain amount of time.

Notification Updates & The Screen Time App
You’ll be able to change the way notifications are delivered, or turn them off entirely, directly from the lock screen. You’ll also get suggestions to disable them for specific apps when you rarely interact with them.

Notifications will also be grouped together by what app sent them.

The Screen Time app will give you a weekly report of how you’re wasting your life on your devices. It’ll also let you set time limits for each app. You’ll get reminders about that limit when you’re about to reach it, or you can set limits for the apps your kids use by category or by picking each specific app.

 

Animoji

Animoji & MeMoji
Animoji are getting updated to let you stick out your tongue with your 3D avatar, they’re also getting four new characters. The ghost, koala, tiger, and t-rex. You can also make a character based on your own face, Apple calls that a “MeMoji.”

Kelsey Peterson demonstrated these effects on stage, and the selfie camera can now display the characters over your real face.

Facetime
Facetime can now have up to 32 people on a group video chat. It can be launched directly from a group text message chat in Messages. The different camera effects, like Animoji, are also available on Facetime.

WatchOS 5
Apple’s Kevin Lynch talked about new improvements for fitness and communications.

WatchOS 5 is getting improvements to compete with your friends in exercise. The Workouts app is getting a Yoga workout type, hiking, running gets a rolling pace measurement, pace alerts, and cadence measurements. WatchOS 5 will also automatically detect when you’ve started some types of workouts, it’ll retroactively credit you with the workout if you tell the Apple Watch to start the workout late.

There’s a Walkie-Talkie app for WatchOS 5 that goes over cellular or wifi connections.

The Siri watch face is getting information about sports, map information, and your heart rate. Siri Shortcuts will be on that Watch Face, as well as third-party apps.

Raising your wrist will let you talk to Siri right away, you won’t need to use the “Hey Siri” hotword.

Watch notifications

Notifications can also be more interactive, like on the phone. One example was getting a notification from Yelp about a dinner reservation

Apple’s WebKit embedded browser will be available for some web links on the Apple Watch.

The Podcasts app is going to work on the watch, it’ll sync full episodes from your phone.

Apple’s Julz demonstrated these new features while riding an exercise bike, which was pretty impressive.

Kevin Lynch returned to tell us about Student ID Cards coming to the watch, it’ll work with just 6 universities to start, but it includes Temple University in Philadelphia.

Lynch also introduced a new rainbow watch band and watch face for Pride month. The watch face is supposed to be available today.

Apple TV 4K
Apple’s Jen Folse talked about how the Apple TV 4K from last year is getting Dolby Atmos in the next version of tvOS, she also talked about how movies will get free upgrades to support the new audio format.

Folse reiterated Apple’s support for live TV and sports.

Folse also said that various cable providers are letting their users replace their cable boxes with the Apple TV, and use a new “Zero Sign-On” instead of the single sign-on system from last year.

The Aerial screensaver on the Apple TV is going to tell you what you’re looking at, finally. It’ll also get a new view from the International Space Station of the Earth.

Mojave

macOS Mojave
Craig Federighi returned to talk about the new features in macOS Mojave.

As Apple leaked, the next version of macOS is getting a dark mode. Previously you could dim the menu bar dock in their settings, but this is a system-wide feature that is more complete.

Desktop Stacks is another new feature that organizes the crap that gets scattered all over your desktop into stacks of documents matched by type, or date, or by tags. It’ll automatically keep those stacks organized as new files are added to the desktop.

Finder gets a new Gallery View that appears to replace the Cover Flow view with thumbnails at the bottom of the screen and a quick look type of view at the top.

The Finder is also getting a detail side bar with shortcuts to different actions you might like to take on the file, Federighi specifically mentioned adding customized automator actions to the side bar for certain types of files like watermarking files with one that was put together earlier.

The quick look utility is enhanced to let you do more from it, Federighi demonstrated trimming a video without opening a separate editor and signing a PDF document.

Screenshots are enhanced to be similar to the iOS functionality but with more powerful functionality that you’d expect on a computer. You can also capture video directly from that utility now.

The Continuity Camera feature was demonstrated by Federighi to take a photo from his phone and pop it directly into a Keynote slide. It can also scan in documents from your phone directly into a Mac app.

A few iOS apps are hitting the Mac. Apple News, Stocks, Voice Memos, and Home for using HomeKit devices.

Mac voice memos

Privacy
Mojave will have better privacy enhancements to prevent other apps from getting access to your personal data unless you want them to do so.

Safari on Mojave and iOS 12 will prevent advertising publishers from tracking you based on sharing functions and comment fields. Mojave and iOS 12 will also hide more of your information from being fingerprinted by websites and advertising publishers.

New mac app store

Mac App Store
The Mac App Store is finally getting updated, it hasn’t had many changes since 2011. Apple’s Ann Thai showed off a redesigned UI that takes a lot from their iOS App Store. It looks much better.

Metal & Core ML on iOS and macOS
Federighi returned to talk about Apple’s Metal graphics and computation API and external GPUs. He boasted about the speedups that Macs can get from up to four GPUs. It’s kind of crazy that the only GPUs that Apple supports for external GPUs are from AMD.

Apple’s machine learning API, Core ML, is getting updated with a 2nd version. It’s supposed to be 30% faster with a 75% reduction in the model size.

UIKit on the Mac
As has been rumored, Apple is making it easier to bring iOS apps to macOS. No specific name was given for this technology, but Federighi says they’re using it internally with apps like Apple News and promises that it’ll be available for 3rd-party developers next year.

Release Dates for iOS 12 and macOS Mojave
“This fall”

Overall
I’m very happy that macOS is getting updated with a new Mac App Store, it’s been way too long and developers have been abandoning it for independent distribution systems. I like having apps bundled into one store, but it’s also good that Apple finally wants to compete with independent distribution.

It’s a little disappointing that the iPad Pro didn’t get updated with this event, but perhaps they’re moving the majority of hardware updates to the Fall event.

I’m very happy to see that Workflow is still getting updated, and it looks like it is even more useful after Apple has updated it under the Siri banner. I wish that it were on the Mac as an alternative to Automator.

Homebrew Users: Run brew cleanup & Get Your Gigs Back

If you use a macOS machine for development, or even just to get some bonus commands that you wish the system came with, then you probably use Homebrew as your command-line package manager.

Perhaps you’re like me, you’ve been using it for years and didn’t realize that it has left gigabytes of detritus on your local drive, I certainly didn’t until someone in the homebrew IRC channel mentioned the brew cleanup command, and now I have 21.3 gigs of disk back.

An iPad Cheap for 2018

Apple announced an updated iPad Cheap today.

IPad 9 7 inch Pencil Slider 32718

Apple announced a new iPad with a bunch of backslapping about how much they love education today at their event held at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago. It’s an updated version of last year’s iPad Cheap with an A10 system-on-a-chip that also works with their stylus, the Pencil. The 2018 iPad Cheap is still missing a ton from the more expensive iPad Pro line, like more modern display technology with a variable framerate. The iPad Mini still hasn’t been updated in almost 3 years despite Apple charging $400 for the iPad Mini 4 versus $330 for this new iPad Cheap.

As usual, I round numbers up to the nearest whole dollar because I don’t care for deceptive pricing.

Here’s an updated rundown of their iPad lineup:

  • 2018 iPad Cheap at 9.7
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A10 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • Supports the ($100) Apple Pencil.
    • Old ass 1st generation Touch ID.
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 128GB ($400) wifi only
    • 128GB ($530) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • A10X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector
    • 64GB ($800) 256GB ($950) wifi only 512GB ($1150)
    • 64GB ($930) 256GB ($1080) and 512GB ($1280) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 10.5
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • A10X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector
    • 64GB ($650) 256GB ($800) 512GB ($1000) wifi only
    • 64GB ($780) 256GB ($930) 512GB ($1130) with cellular

Since I last revisited the table of confusing iPad decisions, Apple bumped up the price of some storage tiers.

Apple also updated their free iWork office utilities today with new features like smart annotation. Additionally, they announced other software for educators, students, and developers who want to work with the new ClassKit API.

New hardware was announced from Logitech, including a cut-down $50 version of Apple’s Pencil, called the Crayon that lacks pressure sensitivity but has a better external design for normal human beings. It appears that this device will only be sold through educational sales channels.

One good thing that Apple announced is that students and teachers get 200GB of iCloud storage as long as the Apple ID they use is managed through their organization. Regular iCloud accounts have a tiny 5GB of storage for all their photos and other data. Apple typically charges $3 per month for 200GB of iCloud storage.

Apple’s extended warranty program with accidental damage insurance was dropped in price to $70 for this iPad Cheap as well as the Mini.

Overall, I don’t think that this new iPad Cheap is at all an approachable device for many educators who are still scrounging for basic materials like paper and pencils, while their students are dealing with hunger and homelessness. The $30 discount offered for schools who want to buy this new iPad Cheap is probably meaningful with large purchases, but it won’t mean anything for the poorest schools and students.

The education theme of the event is an extension of the ongoing co-option of public resources by private businesses. Just like NASA ceding their public work and research to private industries, using expensive closed platforms for public schools is not a good look. One Apple presenter even referenced JFK’s “We Choose to go to The Moon” speech.

Apple spend a large part of the presentation advocating for the iPad as a device for creation, but also for coding software. To treat the iPad as a replacement for the modern computer in creative endeavors, or a device for coding, is especially ridiculous when you realize that you can’t ship a game or app for Apple’s app store without using a Mac. iPads don’t have Xcode.

For anyone else who wants an iPad with support for Apple’s Pencil stylus, almost as much processing power as the current Pro models, but is OK giving up enhanced display technologies and half the RAM, the 2018 iPad Cheap is a fine choice and a decent upgrade to last year’s model. It’s available today and I would expect more updates to the iPad line later this year.

The HomePod Situation

Apple’s competitor to other standalone high-end speakers came out on Friday. It’s the HomePod. Apple boasts about its higher quality sound that adapt to the room you are in, reviewers agree.

Nilay Patel wrote this in his review:

All of this means the HomePod sounds noticeably richer and fuller than almost every other speaker we’ve tested. You get a surprisingly impressive amount of bass out of it, but you can still hear all of the details in the midrange and the bass never overwhelms the music. And it’s immediately, obviously noticeable: set in a corner of my kitchen, the HomePod sounded so much better than everything else that our video director Phil Esposito went from thinking the whole thing was kind of dumb to actively pointing out that other speakers sounded bad in comparison.

Compared to the HomePod, the Sonos One sounds a little empty and the Google Home Max is a bass-heavy mess — even though Google also does real-time room tuning. The Echo and smaller Google Home aren’t even in the same league. The only comparable speaker that came close in my testing was the Sonos Play:5, which could match the detail and power of the HomePod in some rooms when tuned with Sonos’ TruePlay system. But it also costs more, is larger, and doesn’t have any smart features at all.

The Apple engineers I talked to were very proud of how the HomePod sounds, and for good reason: Apple’s audio engineering team did something really clever and new with the HomePod, and it really works. I’m not sure there’s anything out there that sounds better for the price, or even several times the price.

What most reviewers also say is that Siri isn’t as hot as the virtual assistant competition in “OK, Google” and Amazon’s Alexa.

Joanna Stern for the WSJ:

Stumping Siri wasn’t as easy as it has been—it knew state capitals, kitchen measurements and the year “Friends” premiered. But Alexa and Google Assistant not only knew more answers, they could better parse my questions. When I asked, “Who is the prime minister of England?” they both correctly named Theresa May. On the HomePod, Siri only knew the answer when I asked, more appropriately, “Who is the prime minister of Great Britain?”

There are other problems I won’t shut up about: Many people will put a HomePod in the kitchen, yet it can’t set two simultaneous cooking timers. It can’t wake me up to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” either. Echo and Google Home can do both. Apple says it is improving Siri all the time.

Of course the “Who is the prime minister of England?” question no-longer stumps Siri, Apple read that review and fixed the glitch, but they’d do that for whatever trivia a reviewer points out. More fundamental issues like the one with multiple timers have been a thorn in the side of anyone who uses iOS’ built-in timer for the past decade, and every Homepod reviewer seems to have taken the time to (rightly) dig into Apple on it.

Siri on the HomePod also fails at understanding multiple users. This is a real issue because it won’t lock other people out of your messages and other personalized features. So, unless you live alone and never have guests, it would never make sense to turn on the personalized features option in the HomePod’s settings.

The other downside is that the device only works out of the box with Apple Music and other music in Apple’s ecosystem through iTunes Match or purchased in iTunes.

I wish that there were a cheaper HomePod Jr. that was cheaper than $350, and that Siri had worked better on the device today. It will get better over time, and I know that for many people that want a smart speaker they’re going to choose the Amazon or Google options, but I wouldn’t ever buy a box running Amazon or Google’s assistants for one reason: Trust.

Google is an advertising publisher, they are fantastic at search, but that’s how they make their money. So, their assistant-in-a-box is not something I would ever trust to keep in my home. I don’t even use their browser, Chrome.

Amazon is a weird business that wants to put something in your home so that you will buy things through it and it can learn more about you to sell you more things. Amazon is more focused on being user-friendly than Google, but the ultimate goal is still so that you’ll be used to ordering paper towels or whatever through their assistant. They also have abhorrent labor practices.

Kelly Weill for the Daily Beast:

In 2015, Ohio gave Amazon more than $17 million in tax breaks to open its first two distribution centers in the state. The handout was heralded as a job-creator.

By August 2017, more than one in ten of those new Ohio Amazon employees or their family members received government food assistance, state data show.

Spencer Soper at The Morning Call reporting on conditions inside an Amazon warehouse back in 2011:

Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.

During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.

An emergency room doctor in June called federal regulators to report an “unsafe environment” after he treated several Amazon warehouse workers for heat-related problems. The doctor’s report was echoed by warehouse workers who also complained to regulators, including a security guard who reported seeing pregnant employees suffering in the heat.

Apple, in theory, wants to sell you a good product that does a thing that you will hopefully find delightful. I believe that their engineers take privacy seriously, and genuinely try to treat their workers well even though the executives fuck up like clockwork, I haven’t seen anything as galling as what happens with Amazon and Google.

The Apple engineers, at least, try to do as much as possible with processing our data on our devices instead of shipping your data off to their server farms to analyze it. Siri does require shipping your voice data off, but I would bet $100 that some of Siri’s limitations are down to the security restrictions Apple has in-place to protect our privacy.

It’s wrong to personify any company, but this is the only company I would trust to have a microphone in my home all day. I also like Apple Music, I’ve been using it daily since 2015 and I still love it.

That’s why I’d be good with trusting the HomePod with what it offers today, and would recommend it to someone who wants to listen to music, podcasts, or other audio sent over Apple’s AirPlay to the dingus. I just have no idea where it would even fit into my life.

I use a cheap bluetooth speaker in the bathroom to listen to music and the news while I take a shower or give my kid a bath. I bring an even cheaper bluetooth speaker with us to the playground so that we can listen to music and baseball games. The HomePod can’t replace the bluetooth speaker in either of those scenarios.

When I want to listen to music in my house I can turn on the Apple TV box, TV, and audio/video receiver with one tap of the remote. The speakers inside the HomePod sound great, but they aren’t going to beat a real stereo set. The HomePod doesn’t have a physical line-in, so it can’t replace my AVR and speakers.

So, I don’t really know where the HomePod is supposed to fit in, for me and my family. It’s not a soundbar, it’s only a bluetooth speaker replacement when you don’t need portability, and obviously don’t need it to work with non-Apple devices since the HomePod only supports Apple’s AirPlay. Maybe if you live an extremely minimal life it’d fit in for you. What a strange device.

Apple’s Ongoing Laptop Nightmare

A MacRumors forum member, project_2501, has posted this extensive log (via Nick Heer) of his attempt to work with Apple’s support to get a refund for one of the latest MacBook Pro’s after his couldn’t play video at 4K without overheating. Of course that overheating also caused other issues, like the glue holding the glass onto the screen peeling off. It’s an eye-watering account, I really recommend reading the whole post.

One of the reasons I’ve chosen, and recommended, Apple hardware in the past has been the often incredible customer support.

When the hardware fails, rarely, they’ve stood by it and repaired it or replaced it with the latest version in case it was a design flaw.

Their latest laptops seem to be incredibly poorly designed. So many people have written about the keyboards failing due to (what should be) insignificant specks of dust permanently interrupting keys.

Casey Johnston wrote this article for The Outline last year. Headline: The New MacBook Keyboard is Ruining My Life.

Perhaps it’s true that less dirt gets under butterfly switched-keys. But therein lies the problem — when dirt does get in, it cannot get out. A piece of dust is capable of rendering a butterfly switch nonfunctional. The key won’t click, and it won’t register whatever command it’s supposed to be typing. It’s effectively dead until someone can either shake loose the debris trapped under it or blow at the upside-down keyboard Nintendo-cartridge style. Meanwhile, Apple quietly put up a page with instructions expressly to try and help people with dead butterfly switch keys.

Having worked in a computer repair center in the past five years, I’m not likely to recommend Windows laptops, they’re cheap (or sometimes expensive) shit.

My current laptop is a late-2013 MacBook Pro that was Apple Support’s replacement for a 2011 model that had repeated issues with the GPU. This 2013 model has had issues, the rubber grommet around the screen has been slowly falling apart while the screen flickers at the login screen and takes forever to wake up with the machine after it’s been sleeping. This all started happening after their last repair on it, and their support surprised me by refusing to fix the issues caused by their repair. Instead offering a $700+ repair option. I’m holding onto it until it falls apart.

I hope that Apple can get their shit together. project_2501 ended up buying one of the 2015 models that Apple still sells for some odd reason, perhaps because the current models aren’t working out so well.

Meltdown & Spectre: Update Everything

There are two big computer vulnerabilities that were announced recently, Spectre and Meltdown attacks. These are significant because they affect almost every desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet, and game console. Almost anything with a processor can be exploited to give attackers passwords and whatever other private information is on a device.

The attacks work because of the way that computer processors attempt to speculatively work ahead of their current point in executing a computer program. My understanding is that even code executed in your web browser could execute these attacks.

There are already patches available through Apple operating systems, Microsoft’s Windows, some Android devices, and many Linux operating systems.

The workarounds that operating systems are implementing may slow these devices down because the attacks utilize performance features of the processors, but the performance effects of the mitigation might not be noticeable outside of specific workloads.

Bruce Schneier:

These aren’t normal software vulnerabilities, where a patch fixes the problem and everyone can move on. These vulnerabilities are in the fundamentals of how the microprocessor operates.

It shouldn’t be surprising that microprocessor designers have been building insecure hardware for 20 years. What’s surprising is that it took 20 years to discover it. In their rush to make computers faster, they weren’t thinking about security. They didn’t have the expertise to find these vulnerabilities. And those who did were too busy finding normal software vulnerabilities to examine microprocessors. Security researchers are starting to look more closely at these systems, so expect to hear about more vulnerabilities along these lines.

The 2017 iMac Pro

Lost during my recent travel was Apple’s release of the iMac Pro, the “pro” version of the iMac that was announced at WWDC. The iMac Pro gets you higher performance and what may be many features of the promised-but-yet-to-be-updated-since-2013 Mac Pro, but with a glued-on high-resolution (5120×2880 P3 color gamut) screen and absolutely zero upgradability of internal components.

For an iPad or iPhone, that’s fine, glue whatever you need together to make the device as thin and light as it can get. It’d be great if you could upgrade the storage in those, and if sometimes they would optimize for battery life over thinness, but here we are looking at a different beast. Despite the Xeon-based workstation hardware you get inside an iMac Pro, with modern desktops you really must be able to, at a minimum, upgrade the graphics processor in order to maintain performance for the lifespan of these devices

I don’t doubt that there are some people or businesses that would appreciate this design of high-performance in a completely sealed design computer, but I find some serious flaws in one of Apple’s proposed use-cases: the idea that this is for virtual reality developers.

Why would anyone deploy a VR app on a platform where the $5,000 iMac Pro is the only device that can support the final product? Sure you could do your work on the iMac Pro and cross-compile for Windows, but that seems like a bad idea if your main development computer isn’t also a device you can test for your primary distribution platform. This is the worst example of the inaccessibility of virtual reality today. Here’s a $5,000 computer and then you have to buy a $600 VR HMD to get started with using or playing VR. When a future VR headset is released any iMac Pro VR developers and users will either have to buy an external GPU or replace the entire computer. Anyone on a desktop tower using Windows can just upgrade their graphics card.

Of course if you’re working in video or audio production, or another field that requires high-end computation, this could be a good workstation for that. However, you have to also believe that Apple will continue to support the “pro” desktop platform that they have neglected for almost a decade with infrequent (Mac Pro) or half-assed (Mac Mini) updates.

This computer has so many caveats and despite the fact that the starting price is actually competitive with other similarly outfitted workstation computers that price is chief among the reasons why I don’t find it very appealing. Maybe the Mac Pro will actually ship next year and be truly modular to replace the Mac Mini as well as the 2013 “trash can” Mac Pro. 

I still dream of a modular desktop Mac that can do all these things and span a wider range of prices to include regular desktop parts (and prices) in addition to scaling up to workstation performance and price, without the glued-on screen. It’ll never happen, and that’s why even though I’m still writing this on my late 2013 MacBook Pro, I built a Windows desktop machine last year.